The hallmarks of an American-made Fender Stratocaster will forever be a classic combination, embraced by guitarists, and imitated by competitors. There’s no going past the versatility of three quality single-coil pickups, that classic double-cutaway body shape and a vibrato bridge. With rumours mounting in late 2016 that Fender was planning to discontinue the production of the American Standard Stratocaster, a sense of panic was unleashed amongst the guitar community. What we weren’t aware of at the time, however, was that Fender were planning to unveil a new Strat – the American Professional Stratocaster. It’s with this new model that Fender have both honoured and enhanced that of its predecessors – most notably with the instalment of newly developed pickups. For this reason alone it’s a welcomed upgrade from what we have seen in the past.
Before trying the American Pro Strat on for size, it’s worth sitting back and admiring the nuanced and finely constructed instrument. The alder body is finished in a rich, newly applied Antique Olive – my pick of the 12 twelve colours on offer with this particular model. A maple neck and rosewood fingerboard, and a jet black pickguard round out the marvellous make.
A key difference between the Standard Strat and the Pro Strat is the neck shape. Instead of the former ‘Modern C’-shaped neck, The Pro is equipped with a ‘Deep C’ neck that sits between a ‘Modern C’ and a ‘U’ in terms of shape. The extra depth and the narrow tall fret size, a deviation from the previously medium jumbo size, are contoured to provide extra hold and control. The playing experience as a result becomes one characterised by precision and a superior level of control, with the fret size an avenue for accuracy when playing lead, and an enabler for complex chord phrasing’s when working on rhythm.
The American Pro Strat feels like a modern guitar; it’s light and streamlined, designed with a tapered body that hugs the torso. And it’s housed in a new ‘elite’ moulded case with TSA-friendly latches, which is a nice touch. Important, though, is the fact that none of these construction-related alterations are too drastic. They much rather represent an upgrade to previous models.
A NEW TONAL STRATOSPHERE
The biggest design shift with the Pro takes place where it matters most – the pickups. Replacing Custom Shop varieties are three V-Mod Single-Coil Strat pickups, designed by the one and only Tim Shaw. He’s responsible for producing the now infamous Shaw PAF pickups found in higher-end Gibson guitars in the early to mid ‘80s. The results, as one would expect, are positive.
On the bridge pickup we get a sweet clarity and great articulation, particularly on the highs. There’s some classically rewarding cleans here, yet the dynamic response also means there’s some bite on offer with elevated gain. Pickup positions two and four touch on the quack tones that we have become so accustomed to from a Strat. From position two to the middle position, and finally position four, the chime-y, glistening tonal character of the guitar really takes shape. And then once you hit position four and the neck position a broader roundness takes over, perfect for playing blues, or for even adding bellowing colouration with high OD settings. Overseeing the guitar’s entire tonal character is a treble-bleed circuit that upholds tone at any level – meaning you can play at any volume without sacrificing tone.
With newly developed pickups, improvements in construction and design, this new version of an old classic is a testament to the ongoing success of Fender. Having laid the foundation for electric guitar manufacturing, they continue to stay ahead of the kerb with a keen thirst for refining and enhancing the end product.
Hits and Misses
Tim Shaw V-Mod pickups
‘Deep C’ neck shape for greater control
Really like the new colours – especially the Antique Olive
Couldn’t find anything bad to say about this wonderful guitar